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BMJ 2004; 329 doi: (Published 01 November 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;329:0411409

Human pancreatic and nerve cells have been shown to produce morphine and its precursors (more typically found in poppy plants). Culturing cells in the presence of labelled oxygen, scientists found evidence of the oxygen in all the morphine compounds. Although the function of mammalian produced morphine is still a mystery, the genes responsible for it may prove useful as a new pharmacological target for the treatment of pain (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2004;101:14 091-6).

Soon people could be tucking into spinach for its iron, vitamin K, and protective properties against anthrax. A US company has been working with petunias, Swiss chard, and spinach to develop an anthrax vaccine in conjunction with the US Navy. Many pharmaceuticals are based on plant compounds, such as aspirin from willow bark. But recently, scientists have started trying to use plants as the vehicle to produce vaccines using a process called transient gene expression. This provides a temporary way to get a food plant to produce a protective protein based …

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